On November 28, the ‘Trimurti’ -- Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress – alliance’s Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government will complete what has been a tumultuous first year in office. Despite the rough weather, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray seems to have his hands firmly on the stern and has managed to keep the boat moving steadily ahead. With NCP supremo Sharad Pawar as the guiding compass of the MVA alliance, the leaders of the three parties know the direction in which they want to head.
The opposition BJP has attacked Thackeray almost daily, with even Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari taking potshots at the government frequently.
Following the 2019 Vidhan Sabha elections, the state witnessed a brief spell of President’s Rule. Then, in a shocking move, the BJP had Devendra Fadnavis sworn in as Chief Minister for a second term in a midnight to dawn drama in which Sharad Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar defected to the BJP camp and promised Fadnavis the support of the NCP; the Centre revoked President’s Rule in the middle of the night, the President signed the order instantly, and Governor Koshyari swore in Fadnavis at dawn. But for all that drama, it lasted barely 80 hours, and Fadnavis had to resign.
The MVA alliance took shape and formed the government, largely due to the efforts of Sharad Pawar and Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut. But barely had the government settled down when the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, with Maharashtra quickly becoming the worst-affected state. Then came the fury of Cyclone Nisarga, which devastated the South Konkan region, two mega-floods in Vidarbha and in Marathwada and Western Maharashtra, a huge resource crunch in the economy, and the fall-out of the death of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput.
The Shiv Sena’s relations with the BJP-led NDA dispensation at the Centre – of which it was a part before it broke ranks to join the Congress-NCP combine – are bitter – as evident from the pending GST dues to the state, the NIA takeover of the Koregaon-Bhima case, the scrapping of the Aarey Metro car-shed and the Dharavi Redevelopment Project.
The MVA came under fire in April when two Sadhus, Kalpavriksha Giri Maharaj and Sushil Giri Maharaj, and their driver Nilesh Telgade, were brutally lynched to death on the night of April 16 in Gadchinchale village in Palghar district, some 120 km from Mumbai.
The BJP sought to paint the Shiv Sena-led government as anti-Hindu and emanded a CBI probe, but CM Uddhav Thackeray handed over the case to the Maharashtra CID. Some 350 persons have been arrested so far in the case.
Another controversy was sought to be used against the Thackeray government after the June 14 death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, and that of his talent manager Disha Salian a week earlier. BJP bigwigs, including Fadnavis, now the Leader of the Opposition, have consistently attacked Uddhav Thackeray for his handling of the Rajput case. Narayan Rane, a former Shiv Sena politician who is now with the BJP, went a step further, alleging that the CM’s son and Tourism Minister Aditya Thackeray was involved in Rajput’s death.
While Mumbai Police were still looking into the death of Rajput, the actor’s father Krishna Kishore Singh filed an FIR in Patna claiming foul play, which the BJP-JD(U) government in Bihar used to hand over the case to the CBI.
The Supreme Court transferred the case to the CBI but to the relief of the Thackerays, the CBI has not found anything amiss in the investigation that Mumbai Police had already done. But that was not the end of their troubles. Other central agencies have followed the CBI in a bid to tighten the noose on the Thackerays. The Enforcement Directorate has been at it, and the Narcotics Control Bureau has widened the probe to investigate a Bollywood-drug mafia nexus.
By September, what began as a suicide-or-murder investigation had become quite something else, with Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut becoming the spearhead of a BJP attack on the Thackerays. The Thackerays hit back, with the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation demolishing alleged illegal portions of Ranaut’s Bandra bungalow. The Centre moved in to protect Ranaut, including with a Y-category security cover for the actor.
Meanwhile, Republic TV Editor Arnab Goswami kept up the drumbeat of allegations against the Thackerays and the Maharashtra government. The MVA government hit back by reopening a 2018 double-suicide case and arrested Goswami. Simultaneously, Mumbai Police unearthed an alleged TRP scam involving Republic TV. The Shiv Sena has also taken on the BJP, alleging that the latter had joined hands with vested interests to malign the Maharashtra government.
On the biggest challenge that the MVA government has faced – the Covid-19 pandemic – too, Thackeray has been at the receiving end of the BJP, including for “working from home.” While Mumbai and Maharashtra were the worst-affected for several months, the MVA government’s handling of the pandemic in the hotspot of Dharavi earned it laurels from international organisations, including the World Health Organization. However, the government has now warned that there could be a second wave of infections in early 2021.
While Thackeray has a difficult enough task managing a coalition with partners of diametrically opposite ideology, he has not taken things thrown at him by the BJP lying down. For instance, he rattled the Centre when he demanded that it scrap the GST regime and return to the old indirect tax system, saying that the states had not benefited from GST. The Centre owes Maharashtra a whopping Rs 30,000 crore – and the politics between BJP and Shiv Sena isn’t helping the state get its due.
Thackeray has also ordered a probe into the JalYukt Shivir Abhiyan, the flagship water supply scheme of Fadnavis, scrapped the Mumbai Metro car-shed at Aarey Milk Colony and shifted it to Kanjur Marg, and ordered retendering for the Dharavi Development Project.
Given the tough odds he is against, Thackeray has managed to outfox the BJP so far. Will he continue to be able to do so?